Choosing a company for a hot air balloon ride can be difficult. Below we give some general advice for those considering a commercial hot air balloon ride as either a gift or for themselves. We hope that this will assist those looking for an amazing flying experience to get the best from from their hot air balloon ride.
The aviation and ballooning world is divided in to those flying privately as a hobby and those flying for commercially. The licensing and insurance requirements for private and commercial hot air ballooning are very different. Private balloonists can not accept payment for flights.
There are a large number of commercial hot air balloon ride companies in the UK, Europe and the US, most of whom are advertised on the Internet or the Yellow Pages. In the Bristol area alone there at least 8 balloon operators covering Bath, Bristol, Gloucester, Somerset and Wales. We cannot recommend any particular balloon ride operation but if you are looking for a balloon ride experience for yourself or as a present then we hope that you will find some useful information on this site.
Hot air balloon rides are very weather dependent. If the conditions on your chosen day are rainy, have poor visibility or high wind speeds then your flight is unlikely to go ahead. In terms of ballooning winds at ground level above 10 mph or 16 kph can result in very unpleasant and potentially dangerous landings. There are other legal requirements on the minimum visibility and lowest allowable cloud level, which will affect the possibility of your flight going ahead.
In the UK one in three days at best have conditions suitable for ballooning. Many of these will be days when it is technically possible to fly but the conditions are dull, overcast and not very enjoyable. For these reasons it is unwise to link your balloon flight to a specific date, birthday, wedding anniversary etc.
Most operators will not only take the legal minimum weather conditions into account, but also whether the conditions will make for an enjoyable flight. Occasionally however we see commercial balloons flying in low cloud and drizzle, which although perfectly safe, does not make for enjoyable experience.
Hot air balloon ride operators will usually issue you with a voucher which will be valid for a number of months from your first choice flight date. It is wise to check with the hot air balloon ride company the conditions that are attached to your voucher and if it can be extended at no cost at the end of the validity period. Some companies will actively try to organise alternative flights for you if one has been cancelled due to poor weather. Others put the onus on you to call and enquire about the next likely flying slot. You should discuss this with your proposed ride operator and make sure that you are happy with any time limits.
The cost of a balloon ride varies significantly between operators and season. Prices are likely to be higher for summer months and for weekend evenings, which are the most popular times. Some operators may offer discounts if you agree to fly mid week. It pays to shop around to get the best deal. Some operators have grouped together into umbrella networks, which can offer flights in many different locations. You should find out if you are booking with an umbrella network - who will be charging a commission for their service - or with an individual operator. Personally we would usually recommend the smaller owner operator companies.
Ride balloon envelopes typically vary in size from 105 thousand cubic feet to 240 thousand cubic feet and the hot air balloon baskets will carry anything between 4 and 15 passengers. The smaller the group the more personal your ballooning experience is likely to be.
Warm and robust outdoor clothing with sturdy shoes is required. Natural fibres are preferred because of their better resistance to heat. You will need to be able to climb into and out off the basket and bear in mind that take off and landing may well be in a muddy field. Expect the air temperature to decrease with altitude. The temperature drop is approximately 3.5 degrees per 1000 ft, (you are unlikely to fly at more than 5000 ft).
Unless your flight is in cold winter conditions your flight will usually take place during the first few hours after sun rise or during the last few hours before sunset. Balloon control becomes very unpredictable during thermal conditions and as thermals decrease significantly towards dusk and over night. In the summer the early morning flights can mean a very early start with sunrise in Europe as early as 4 am. However, in our experience the morning flight have been some of the best that we have had. The early start is worth it.
Bring a camera as there should be many opportunities for interesting ballooning photos. It is recommended that you use UV filters on your camera to eliminate possible haziness. Including parts of the balloon (eg the burner flame, or the inside of the balloon), or your fellow passengers in your photos may make the pictures more interesting. Don't forget to get someone to take some pictures of you in the basket before take off. Many ride operator now have remotely controlled cameras which hang on the outside of the envelope and can take pictures of the passengers in the basket whilst flying.
In most cases your flight will end on farming land and at best you will be uninvited guests. In the UK most fields and pastures are enclosed with hedges, fences and gates. People following the balloon should not enter the final landing field unless cleared to do so by the pilot. Similarly any cars following the ride should park up considerately near the landing site and not drive on to any land. Unlike our smaller sports balloons the large hot air balloon ride envelopes and baskets can not be carried from the filed, but require the trailer and towing vehicles to be brought onto the land. The retrieve crew will contact the farmer for permission and to pay the now commonplace landing fees.
We have a listing of UK hot air balloon ride operators on this site who can be contacted.